Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Last Nice Day

We planned to sail directly from Dana Point to San Diego. We wanted to come into San Diego in the daylight, so we planned to leave Dana Point well before sunrise. Despite the summery weather, the days are growing considerably shorter. Bryan got up and got us underway early, but we must have hit a back eddy of the typical southern current because we weren’t making anywhere close to our usual 5-knot average.
A couple of hours out of San Diego, I called the harbor patrol to arrange for our anchoring permit. San Diego has several anchorages available, but they all require a permit and each have slightly different rules. The La Playa anchorage is only open on weekends. Gabriola Anchorage is a long ways from onshore amenities. The A-9 anchorage, specifically for cruisers, requires out-of-town ID and an inspection. We thought staying in the cruisers’ anchorage would be a nice way to meet other boats headed south, but when I called, I was told that the inspection had to be carried out in the daylight. At our rate, we wouldn’t come in until dusk, and we didn’t want to risk coming in too late and needing to find (and pay for!) moorage. Mission Bay, near the northern end of the San Diego metropolis, was just a few miles out of our way with a highly recommended anchorage just inside the jetty. We hung a left and pulled in, setting the anchor well before sunset. We were a little disappointed not to make San Diego, but it was delightful to have a restful evening in the quiet bay.

Meira testing batteries and being generally Meira-like
The next morning, we took off early. I was glad we hadn’t tried to make the last few miles in the dusk. There were enormous kelp beds and fishing buoys all over off Point Loma. I stayed busy trying to miss them all and hoping we didn’t get something stuck in our propeller. It’s a fairly common sailing emergency and often requires a crew member to dive down and clear the obstruction by hand. I’d be shocked if we escape the trip without wrapping our prop at least once, but I’d like to be in warmer water before it happens!
Once we were in the channel, we no longer had to worry about kelp and buoys…just stay out of the way of all the navy ships in the area. There were several small boats patrolling a perimeter around docked military vessels, and one large warship heading out to sea to perform an anchor test.

We spotted helicopters, airplanes, and even a submarine in a dry dock. It was fun to listen to their very proper radio chatter as we came into the customs/inspection dock. I especially enjoyed getting to see San Diego Bay from this perspective, as my dad, who ran sonar on the destroyer the USS Black, spent time there before shipping out for the South Pacific during the Vietnam War.
Look closely...there's a submarine in there!

Our inspection took an hour and a half—30 minutes of waiting for the officer to arrive, 5 minutes of talking to him, 45 minutes more waiting as he copied our paperwork (technical difficulties and a conversation with a detective about an ongoing case waylaid him) and a very few minutes of him peeking at our fire extinguishers and oil-free bilges. We understand the need for the procedures; too many anchored boats end up derelict, spilling blackwater or oil into clean harbors. And abandoned boats have historically been an expensive problem in this harbor, with its strategic border location. But by the time we got away, filled our tanks at a nearby fuel dock, and found our way to the crowded anchorage, we were ready to relax!
Earlier in the month, when we’d ordered some equipment from Amazon, we couldn’t have everything shipped to the Amazon Locker. The solar showers we needed came in boxes too big to fit in the mailboxes there. We discussed trying to find a San Diego marina that would receive mail for us or having something shipped to a post office (tricky to do if it comes UPS or FedEx). I’ve been a part of an online women’s sailing forum for several years now and thought I’d see if anyone from that community could help. Within seconds of posting my request, I had a response. Within minutes, several more chimed in and by that afternoon, I had a mailing address and the offer of a car to run errands while we were in town.
The morning after our arrival, I called Helen, our ersatz mail lady, and made arrangements to meet that evening. We got ourselves together and rowed past the Coast Guard station, to the dinghy dock. Bryan headed out on the folding bike in search of Mexican fishing licenses, a West Marine, and a haircut. I needed to do a little research about current Mexican clearance requirements and make some copies of our documentation, so the girls and I set off on a walk to the San Diego Central Library. It was a pleasant day and our walk took us along the harbor and through the charming gaslamp district. We stopped for lunch at a place called Smashburger! They say “Hunger is the best sauce” but I’m pretty sure we would have thought the food fabulous even if we hadn’t been pretty hungry.

The library was enormous, with 9 floors to explore. Hannah found the teen section and Meira planted herself in the 530’s with all the physics textbooks and Richard Feynman writings (she’s a recent new fan). I did enough research to reassure myself, but stopped before I found out enough to freak me out (always a tough balance to find) and navigated my way through the multi-step printing and copying process.

By early evening, we were all back at the dinghy dock. Bryan and Hannah rowed out to LiLo to drop off our day’s haul (he’d picked up our replacement autopilot and a few other things along the way) and Meira and I waited in the twilight to meet Helen.
Bryan and Hannah made it back before Helen got there and we all rode back to her house. She and her husband, Glyn, have 3 lovely girls and right away is was obvious that our girls would much rather hang out at their house than run errands with us. We’d sent their address to our families so there were several letters and packages to open—”Like a birthday,” Hannah said, “but with brand new friends to help us celebrate.” Bryan and I left them happily sharing take-out and we loaded up the trunk with necessities from Grocery Outlet and a local drugstore. We’d heard mixed reports about the ease of major provisioning on the Baja coast, so we wanted to be prepared to go several weeks without a trip to the store. We got back right at bedtime, and the girls didn’t want to stop playing with their new friends. but the family was planning a trip to the weekend-only anchorage in their sailboat that weekend and we arranged to join them then.
By the time we got back to the boat with all our groceries, we were too tired to deal with them.

They ended up all over the place and we just went to bed and planned to deal with them in the morning. But the next day, we worked on a few boat projects and by evening, there was still so much stuff everywhere the crew was on the verge of mutiny. We’d planned a family dinner out to celebrate making it to San Diego—the last port in the US!—and decided it was the perfect time to splurge and get off the boat. We dug out some granola bars to fortify us, rowed the 1/4 mile to the dock and walked the 2 1/2 miles back to Smashburger. The girls and I had raved so much about our culinary find, Bryan didn’t have any trouble agreeing with our suggestion to go back. By the time we got back to the boat, the mess didn’t seem so overwhelming and we tucked away most of the groceries and went to bed.
Sailors are always discussing the weather and everyone has an opinion. I think it was Thursday evening that someone warned us confidently, “Today was the last nice day.” We were planning a few extra days in the bay so we hadn’t looked at the forecast for a day or so. We braced ourselves for colder weather, maybe even rain.

In the morning, under beautiful blue skies, we moved over to the La Playa anchorage, hoping to get a good spot before it filled in with the Friday night crowd. A fellow sailor stopped by to chat and gave us directions to the laundromat so we loaded up our laundry for a trip to town. We beached the dinghy on a nearby beach and walked up a few blocks to the cleaners. We fit 3 heavy bags of clothes into 2 huge washers and left the girls to watch it while Bryan and I walked down to the marine store. We still had a few things on our before-we-hit-Mexico list and we found several of them there, including the very important Mexican courtesy flag. We fly the American flag off our stern, but when we’re in a foreign country, we also fly their flag off the side of the boat. We couldn’t wait to get to Mexican waters and raise the Mexican flag!
We walked back to the laundromat to switch the clothes to the dryers (you keep saying you want a taste of our real lives aboard—this is it!) and Bryan and I walked to the other marine store in the area for some fishing equipment. We all like fish and look forward to catching and eating some on the trip, but we also want to have the gear on hand in case an emergency ever kept us at sea beyond our food supply. While there, we checked out the snorkels but we needed the girls to try theirs on before we made any final decisions.

We walked back to get the girls and our laundry, did the now-familiar walk to the dinghy/dinghy to the boat/unload the stuff routine.

And then we did it again in reverse. We rowed to shore, this time securing Splitpea with our new dinghy anchor—perfect for those times when there’s a sandy beach with nothing on shore to tie her up to—and walked back to town for snorkels. None of us are tremendous swimmers, but we know we want to be able to take full advantage of the underwater wildlife…once the water gets warmer! We’d forgotten to consider, however, that the girls wouldn’t be able to see through their new masks. Bryan and I wear soft contacts, so we would be fine, even if one got salty or lost. But we don’t want to risk Meira’s hard contacts in the sea, even with a mask, and without her glasses, Hannah won’t be able to see the fish at all. We stood around in the aisle thinking it over, quickly consulted Google, and made a plan. We hadn’t planned to take our new friends up on their offer of a car for the weekend, but this was worth the trouble.
As we walked back to the dinghy, we could see fog blowing in over the water. We’d been joking all day, the whole warm, lovely day, about how sad it was that yesterday had been “the last nice day.” But now, it looked like the sailor had been right, if a day late. The weather was shifting. We rowed out in the low clouds and then walked back to the local coffee shop. We still had a shocking amount of prep to do to get all our weather and communications devices working and most of the prep required internet access. And, of course, we wanted to make sure all our apps and podcasts were up to date. We walked back to the boat, surprised to see the evening fog had lifted already. Maybe it hadn’t been the last nice day after all.
Saturday was to be a restful day, but Bryan walked back to the coffee shop for the morning while the girls and I folded the laundry and did the dishes. Powdered laundry soap had spilled all over our clean clothes, so we shoved the bags up through the forward hatch and shook them out and folded them in the sun on the foredeck. Then Hannah and I moved the dishwashing operation to the cockpit and knelt in the sun cleaning every last dish. A good rinse in salt water kept the wash water clean and a final rinse in a small amount of fresh water helped conserve our limited resources.
That evening, Bryan and I walked to town again for dinner fixings. We were pretty well stocked up on non-perishables, but we picked up some meat for the grill, garlic bread, and salad. By the time we were back on the boat, our friends were arriving in the anchorage, so we cooked our dinner (pausing to chat with the sailors who had ended up anchored uncomfortably close to us—they moved over a bit and we all slept better) and rowed it over to share with Glyn and Helen. We banished the kids to the cabin and sat out in the cockpit chatting until the rumpus below escalated to a cacophony. Do I even have to mention by now that we had beautiful sun and warm weather?
Sunday started with coffee and tea at our new favorite haunt. Around mid-morning, we declared ourselves ready enough and went back to the boat. Helen had left her car keys with the girls so we walked in the warming sun the mile and a half up to her house and picked up the car. We found our way to a scuba shop that, thankfully, had prescription snorkel masks in the girls’ prescriptions. We stopped at the Trader Joes for coffee (and a couple-many other things) on our way back to the boat. We left the girls at the dinghy, watched as they rowed out and boarded LiLo, and drove up to Target. We loaded up there and then I finished provisioning at the grocery store next door while Bryan walked to the Home Depot for just a few more things. We hadn’t been able to shop this easily since before we left and we were making the most of it!

While we were gone, our friends came back from their day sail and our girls rowed over to join them. We arrived at the beach to see Splitpea rowing around the anchorage with a passel of kids. They spotted us and Hannah dropped off her passengers at their boat and then rowed over to pick us up. We somehow fit the 3 of us and all our purchases in the dinghy and dropped Hannah off on the fun boat while we went back to put stuff away. We knew we’d need to be ocean-ready before bed, as we were planning to leave around 3am. But we wanted just a few more minutes with our new friends. So we rushed around, wedging things in here and there, grabbed some appetizers to share and rowed on over. We sat in the cockpit and enjoyed the warm evening. All the kids were tired and we needed to get some sleep before our early departure, so we didn’t stay too long. We’d promised Hannah that we’d do our best to leave in time to celebrate her birthday in Mexico. But the quick friendships we’d formed in this corner of the sailing community had us wishing we could stick around longer. Whether or not it was the last nice day, it was our last day in San Diego.


  1. Oh Dear Bethany, How we all miss you! We met with Warren who I know loves your girls and he is a sweet gracious friend, how I love reading your stories with your girls and how it fortifies me in hopes of future adventures, even the mundane is worth every bit because I know, I know even little stuff is just a bit more interesting when it is outside the routine.

    Miss you, thanks for the updates, hug your beautiful girls for me and hug yourself too (hah)


  2. Richard Feynman!?!?! Ok, after you get back home and rest a bit and Meira is ready for a new adventure, she's going to come up to Uncle Eric's house for a good long stay. We built a cloud chamber from an old aquarium and it was amazing. I have *radioactive lead*! How cool is that?